Raina hastily put her mask back on, blushing furiously. She was secretly quite pleased, but underneath that was a thick layer of shame. Her face as it was now… Without this mask…
Without saying anything to the man, Raina gathered her stuff and hurried down the hill.
“At least tell me your name, beautiful!”
Whereas she was previously slightly overwhelmed by a strange fluttering in her heart by the strange man, now a hard wedge of annoyance drove down, and she straightened her back and strode away.
‘You aren’t getting anything with that entitled attitude, that was for sure,’ Raina thought to herself.
Then she spoke aloud, forcing every ounce of her willpower into her words. “Stay away from me.”
Her voice was low, but the air rang with the imperative in her words. Satisfied, she returned to the village. Perhaps she really should get a class at this rate. She had gotten lucky with monsters, by which she meant that she hadn’t encountered any. But this man arriving reminded her that although this place was safer, it was not safe.
Lower, after she walked almost halfway down the hill, almost against her will, she stopped, and turned and looked up, expecting…
Well, she wasn’t sure what to expect. But she saw a now distant figure, standing stock still, looking down towards her. His entire body posture radiated sad puppy dog. For a moment, Raina regretted what she had done, but then she buried that sentiment.
‘After all,’ She reasoned. ‘If he really wanted to talk to me, what’s the harm in making him work a little for it? Like I’ve been working to find out where Randidly is…’
With her thoughts turning decidedly frustrated, Raina continued back to Donnyton, her eyes on her feet.
Alana looked around, slightly alarmed. There was an odd tension in the air, and Devan’s eyes were narrowed. They were in a strange little clearing, next to a small stream. The vegetation around them, the grass, bushes and tree leaves, were various shades of blue, while the trunks of the tree looked like obsidian.
But what was most strange was that surrounding them were around 3 dozen mother fucking human turtle people, aiming crossbows at the new arrivals. Everyone was very still. Alana’s hand twitched as she forcefully repressed an urge to draw her spear. This was extremely strange, but there was at least another village. So perhaps this was a diplomatic mission after all, and Kiersty hadn’t been blowing smoke out of her ass..
But her hope dwindled as one of the turtle people caught sight of the twitch, and a crossbow pivoted slowly to aim at her.
Then the rabbit man stepped forward. “Razor Fleetfoot reporting. I have brought back the representatives of our sister village, which calls itself Donnyton.”
Silence was the only response from the crossbow sporting group of turtles. Razor’s smile faltered. Devan stood quite still, seemingly completely at ease, but Alana knew from experience with him that he could spring into motion at the drop of the hat, activating Aegis to boost the group’s defensive arrangements.
Alana began to run through some mental math. Assuming they weren’t boosted by access to the system, but were simply crossbows, Alana was rather confident that she would be able to withstand the volley of arrows. Their armor, new, improved versions provided by the forges of Donnyton, would be more than enough to weather this storm.
But if they were system improved weapons…
Further lowering her spirits, one of the turtles, the one that appeared to be a leader stepped forward, his green, leathery hands behind his back. “Initiate of the 1st Circle, Razor Fleetfoot. It appears that you have successfully returned from your scouting mission to the sister village. Unfortunately….”
He paused then, his balding green head bobbing a little. “Or rather fortunately, when you didn’t return yesterday, your grandmother was inconsolable. She has insisted on the draft. We cannot continue without more individuals with a class. If you were to return, perhaps her resolve would waiver.”
Razor just blinked. Alana felt ice cold on the inside. “But…. But I’m here, I came back.”
The turtle man nodded serenely. “…with quite grievous injuries.” He snapped his fingers.
Six of the crossbows snapped, bolts flying forward to lodge themselves in the chest of a shocked Razor. He tried to open his mouth to say something, but only blood came out, dripping and pooling on the ground in front of him. After a few seconds of struggle, he keeled over sideways, silent the entire time, toppling in front of a serious eyed Kiersty.
Devan took a step forward, and several loaded crossbow swiveled to him.
“This is an internal matter.” The turtle announced. “Once he has died, you may return to your village, or if you insist, you may come to ours for discussions. Until then, do not move.”
Frowning, Devan remained still, but someone else moved. Kiersty bent down, her mouth scrunched up in a tight line. Alana felt a thin thread of pity for the child. Although the world was now like this, it was not an easy thing to get your first taste of death. The girl’s head was lowered, and Alana felt a pang as she realized she was probably crying.
But when Kiersty’s head snapped up, there were no tears in those eyes; only fire.
“Don’t hurt Mr. Bunny Rabbit….” She whispered furiously, her small fists clenched at her sides. Her right fist started to glow, a fiery energy growing slowly larger from her palm, from whatever she had clutched there. It rose and rose, becoming almost blindingly bright. First one, and then a rain of arrows came, shooting towards Kiersty, and Devan and his squad lurched forward to block them. They managed to get in front of most of the arrows, but more came.
But as those arrows neared her, they burnt up to nothing, dissolving silently to ash, the strange flames around her body producing no heat, but were seemingly utterly impenetrable. The air seemed to thrum with her fury, spreading out in waves.
Instead of lashing out with her anger though, Kiersty kneeled next to Razor and delicately began to remove the arrows from his chest and torso. As she did so, small flames licked at his chest, closing the wounds. Simultaneously, the light around her dimmed, until when she removed the last arrow from his chest, and the light when completely out.
Kiersty swayed, then collapsed onto Razor’s chest.
Razor sat up, blinking, and then looked uncomprehendingly down at Kiersty. “Is it bed time again…?”
Devan’s squad slowly drew their weapons and turned to the crossbowmen, whose faces were frozen into masks of fear. But they were not looking at Devan’s squad, or Alana’s new spear, which glimmered golden in red.
They were looking at a female rabbit person, standing with her hands on her hips, in between the turtle people and the group of Donnyton. Her fur was a soft brown, like the bark of a young tree.
“What,” The rabbit woman said very slowly, delicately hefting a hunk of iron that was about the size of the club that Dozer used with a single hand, “happened here?”
“Oh sis!” Razor said cheerily from his spot on the ground. He rubbed some of the blood off from around his mouth and continued. “I brought the delegation from our sister village back! And then- oh.”
Randidly sat on the ground, waiting for his mana and stamina to regenerate. He had considered using this time to work on another Soul Seed, but he still hesitated for a few reasons. First, without notifications, it would be hard to keep track of and control the outcome of the Soul Seed. He also wouldn’t be aware of how close to being finished it was.
In addition, Randidly wanted to grind a lot of skills, to raise his general battle prowess quickly. Well, practice a lot of skills. The sooner that he got away from the grinding mentality the better. So he didn’t want to carefully limit the exposure the seed would have. As far as he could tell, they had a spiritual connection to him, and it wasn’t possible to hide the seed while he was using skills he didn’t want to be a part of it.
The third reason was he still had so many questions about Aether. When he had asked Lyra yesterday, she had simply smiled, and Randidly was able to intuit it just wasn’t something she was able to answer. He would have to figure it out himself.
So as Randidly meditated, he turned his perception inward, examining the energies that he could distantly feel. It was like trying to parse apart threads of spider silk with calloused hands. He could see them when they caught the light, but anytime he tried to actually put his hands on them, they all but disappeared under his fingers. It was incredibly frustrating.
But that didn’t mean that the time he had spent training with Lyra in mana control had been in vain. He had learned how to approach delicately, settling his perception down, so even though he was unsure if he really had a strand of that energy, he had confidence it was there.
Aether was special, too. It was hot and cold, to a dangerous degree. It was volcano and glacier, sliding through his veins, pulsing with the beat of his heart.
Randidly’s eyelids twitched, but they did not open. On closer inspection of his inside, he was almost sure that the energy within him had spread, very slowly. He had felt it pulsing while he trained yesterday, but wasn’t sure what to make of it. If, then, Aether really was the work of the system on his body, if stats and skills all came from Aether… Then more Aether settling in his body meant he had gotten stronger…?
But that also didn’t feel right. Randidly did his best to follow those thin strands of spider silk energy back to his core. Because the Aether flowed like water, from a spring he held inside of himself…
As he struggled and followed it back, Randidly could feel fiery runes flare up around his throat, and immediately cool to deathly cold. His heart beat a little faster, sure that this was a sign he was heading in the right direction, but that small bit of excitement threw off his concentration, and it all fell to pieces.
Sighing, Randidly shook his head. He did not need to rush it, even this much was an improvement. Once he found the source of Aether inside of himself… if he could affect it… if it could vastly increase the rate at which he gained strength….
Smiling, Randidly stood and walked towards Mrs. Hamilton, who was beckoning him over towards a very strange looking contraption.